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Friday, July 19, 2019

A Heavenly Night for the Dream: Atlanta Takes Game One, 89-84, on the Road over Sun

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Photo Caption: A year ago, Lindsay Harding wore the uniform of a Washington Mystic, trying to stave off an upset by the Atlanta Dream in Round One of the Eastern Conference playoffs, an effort that ultimately proved futile. This year, Harding is the play maker for the Dream, whom she led to an upset of the upper-seeded Connecticut Sun with a game-high 21 points, plus four steals, three boards and two assists, in Uncasville, Conn., Friday night.

Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Teri Priebe©

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn.—In the WNBA playoffs, where it’s the same as postseason tournaments in just about any team sport, there’s no place like home court advantage.

But when it comes to the Atlanta Dream the road is not necessarily a terrible place either.

A year after the Dream, then the fourth seed, took the best-of-three Eastern Conference semifinals and finals 2-0 in each round by winning the openers away from Philips Arena, Atlanta, now the third seed, took another one for the road Friday night with an 89-84 victory over the Connecticut Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut, the toughest venue in the East for visitors.

The Connecticut Sun had a gaudy 15-2 record at the Mohegan Sun Arena in the regular season and joined the top-seeded Indiana Fever in the East with the privilege of hosting a conference semifinals opener.

Furthermore, the vocal crowd of 7,373 took great delight when Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry, one of the leading candidates for the WNBA’s MVP award, went to the bench with her fifth personal foul with nine minutes, 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the game, while Connecticut took a 68-63 lead on a pair from the line by Allison Hightower.

But their joy was short-lived. Though Atlanta had its Angel on the bench, that’s when things really got to be heavenly for the Dream.

Free throws from former Duke star Lindsey Harding, who scored 10 of her game-high 21 points in the final period, and timely shooting from former Dream starter Iziane Castro Marques with a pair of three-pointers, as well as the play of Armintie Price enabled Atlanta to pull ahead and the Dream grabbed an 89-84 victory.

The fourth quarter was the only period in which the Dream topped the Sun, gaining a 28-18 differential.

“The irony is we fought to get home-court advantage in the first round and now we have to win a game on the road to stay alive,” said Sun point guard Renee Montgomery, the former UConn star, with an eye to Sunday’s survival game for Connecticut in Georgia.

“That’s just how the playoffs go. I don’t think anyone is feeling like we can’t do it. Everyone has a collective feeling of `OK, let’s get this one on the road and bring this series back here for Game Three at home,” Montgomery added. “It’s just tough to give this one away at home.”

Things were going so well for the Dream in the final stretch, coach Marynell Meadors said McCoughtry, the 2009 Rookie of the Year and overall No. 1 draft pick, was not pressuring to get reinserted into the action.

“Her demeanor on the bench was, `Coach, they are doing good, don’t put me back in,” Meadors revealed, though McCoughtry returned to the floor in the final minute when the Dream held off the Sun. “She’s all about wins and whoever is on the court, she is supporting them 100 percent. That’s characteristic of this team.

“I don’t think they care who scores or who rebounds. They are all striving for that `W’”

A year ago Harding was trying to hold Atlanta away from getting any ‘Ws’ but to no avail as the Dream swept the Mystics, then the East’s top seed, out of the opening round of 2010 WNBA playoffs.

“We knew how big it would be to get this one on the road,” Harding said about being on the same side with the rest of the Atlanta delegation this season. “We were just focused.

“As long as you get in the playoffs, you just want to do well,” she added. “This team is very physical. But this team is very fast. We’re in great shape. We want easy baskets so we just keep pushing as much as we can to get those.”

McCoughtry didn’t have one of her better games, when she was scoring in the 30s toward the close of the regular season. But she still had a double double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Sancho Lyttle, who has had to play through a knee injury that hampered her early in the season when the Dream got off to a 3-9 start, had 13 points and 11 rebounds. Erika DeSouza had 16 points and Price scored 14 as all five starters scored in double figures.

“They were probably better off with Angel on the bench in foul trouble because then they had to get their entire team involved and they got shots from everybody and their points were distributed pretty evenly throughout the team,” Connecticut’s Asjha Jones observed. “That made it tough on us. They were rotating and getting open shots, or they were getting out on the fast break and getting good looks at the basket.”

Tina Charles, another former UConn star who is among the candidates for the MVP award, was stopped from getting a 24th double double. Charles set a new WNBA record for double-doubles with 23 during the regular season, but was forced to settle for She finished with 12 points and seven boards in this outing.

Sun veteran Asjha Jones scored 16, a team high matched by the Sun’s Montgomery while Kalana Greene added 10.

Kara Lawson, the former Tennessee standout who does broadcast analysis for ESPN, scored eight off the bench.

Meadors, emphasizing the number of former UConn players on the Sun, said the opponent defenses caused problems.

“Their defense they put on us tonight caused us some issues,” she said. “They took away a lot of our break away lay-ups, which we normally have a lot of. They did a super job on the defensive end.”

Still, Atlanta’s size caused problems. The Dream had a hefty rebound advantage 47-29, including 14-8 on the offensive boards. Atlanta dominated points in the paint 46-28 and went to the line much more than the Sun shooting 27-for-33 on free throw attempts while Connecticut was 20-for-21.

The Dream had an enormous advantage on fast-break points 17-2 and a small out-performance of 17-13 over the Sun in second chance points.

But it all adds up on the plus side for Atlanta and the minus side for Connecticut.

  “I think the biggest stat was winning because we came here two times before and didn’t win,” Lyttle said. “This is the playoffs and we needed to do something different. We came into the fourth quarter fighting for our lives and came out with the win.”

Asked what worked, what didn’t, Sun coach Mike Thibault responded, “The key areas you need to play well in, to win a playoff game, we struggled with.

“We got out-rebounded huge. When we turned it over or took a bad shot, it turned into a lay-up or foul on the other end. It translated into 17 points we couldn’t afford to give up.

“I thought we played a pretty good game until the fourth quarter. We had our chances with two six-point leads in the second half, but they quickly evaporated. We got outscored at the foul line by seven, out-rebounded and had nine turnovers in the second half.”

Meadors said Atlanta only had three days all summer when everyone was able to practice.

“We’d get one back (from an injury) and then lose another,” she said.

Give Harding credit for resiliency and moving forward after the worst moment of her senior year. That’s when she missed two foul shots with 0.04 seconds left on the clock which enabled Rutgers to upset Duke in the Greensboro Regional semifinal game in 2007 and advance to the NCAA championship, where the Scarlet Knights ultimately lost to Tennessee.

“I don’t like waiting around for other people,” Harding said. “As a point guard I want to set everybody up and get everybody comfortable.

”When it comes down to it, you just have to do it sometimes, you can’t wait on anybody. You can wait and wait and then all of a sudden you are like, `I wish I could have done this. I wish I could have done that.’ I don’t ever want that when I’m finished playing.”

But that’s down the road, a place where Atlanta will have to thrive at least one more time in the conference semifinals if they hope to advance once again to the WNBA finals.


Originally published Sat, September 17, 2011

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.